Worth the risk
I took a huge chance going to South Africa, but sitting here three months later, back at home in England, I believe it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
My interest in birds started several years ago whilst I was studying for my BSc in Cambridge, England and has continued to grow ever since. When I saw the position for a shorebird conservation intern in South Africa I couldn’t not apply. It would be almost impossible for me to list every amazing experience and each new skill I learned whilst I was there, so let me start simply with…
If you are into your birds, like me, then I can describe being in South Africa as ‘dreamlike’. The sheer variety of birds I encountered whilst there was incredible – everyday there was a new species to see, a new call to hear, or a new behaviour to watch. Often it was my walks to the office that provided me with these amazing bird experiences – it was always an incredible moment to see the flash of bright red from a Turaco’s wings as it crossed the treetops from one side of the road to the other and it never got old! The birdlife was an endless source of inspiration for me whilst I was there too.
As I was working on the shorebird conservation programme, we spent most of our time with the White-fronted Plovers. We did lots of observations on them and spent a lot of time with the birds on the beaches around Natures Valley and as a result, I began picking up on their behaviours and calls. For example, learning the different calls the plovers make and what each one means gives you more of an insight into their ‘bird language’ and soon you start picking up on their nicknames and each pair’s territory and habits.
It was also remarkable to be given the chance to watch the nest defence behaviours of the breeding adults – they have a suite of behaviours they exhibit when threatened and these are incredible to witness – especially the ‘broken wing’ display. It is one thing to see wildlife on a documentary, but working with them every day gives you a better understanding of their different personalities and the daily struggles they face.
I have left South Africa with an even bigger empathy for vulnerable wildlife and a bigger understanding of the complexities between human/animal conflict. Working for NVT also helped me to understand that working as a conservationist is not just about working with animals - it’s equally about people, communities, livelihoods and cultural traditions as these things are all interlinked with the natural environment and the wildlife that lives in it. I learned so many new skills whilst out there that I really feel have boosted my CV so I can continue to pursue a career in bird conservation.
I also must say that my time in Natures Valley was also made so fantastic by the people that I had the chance to work with. It can be a daunting experience to fly half way across the world and not sure what you will find there – but I was greeted by the nicest people on the other end! It was cool to really integrate into the team and by the end of my time I was incredibly sad to leave the guys behind. We shared so many learning experiences and laughs together and the general vibe of NVT was always so warm with humour and smiles and I feel lucky I got to be a part of that – it was a perfect environment to work, play, adventure and have fun in!
Thanks for having me NVT!!